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Library and Book Reviews For O'Reilly

O'Reilly User Group

The following books are available for borrowing from the Philly Chix Library. Reviewing of these books is strongly encouraged to support the publishers who gave these to us.

If you'd like to borrow one of these books, request a book from a publisher, submit a review, or add a book to the library please contact lyz at princessleia dot com.

Borrowing policy: When you borrow books from the library you agree to bring them back within 6 months so other group members can borrow them (extending this is no problem for most books, unless another member expressed an interest in borrowing)..

Perl Core Language: Little Black Book
Programming the Perl DBI
The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks and Hacks, by By Rachel Andrew (1 copy for library)
Read Review!

Perl Core Language: Little Black Book by Steven Steven Holzner, Keith Weiskamp (Editor) (1 copy for library)

Read Review!

Programming the Perl DBI, by Alligator Descartes, Tim Bunce, Linda Mui (Editor) (1 copy for library
Read Review!

The Cathedral and the Bazaar
Essential CVS
Hackers & Painters
The Cathedral & the Bazaar, by Eric S. Raymond (1 copy for library)
Read Review!

Essential CVS By Jennifer Vesperman (1 copy for library)

Hackers & Painters, By Paul Graham (1 copy for library
Read Review!

How Linux Works
IRC Hacks
Linux For Non-Geeks
How Linux Works, By Brian Ward (1 copy for library)
Read Review!

IRC Hacks, By Paul Mutton (1 copy for library)
Read Review!

Linux For Non-Geeks, by Rickford Grant (1 copy for library)
Read Review!

Linux Server Hacks
XML in a Nutshell
MySQL Pocket Reference
Linux Server Hacks By Rob Flickenger (1 copy for library)
Read Review!

XML in a Nutshell By Elliotte Rusty Harold and W. Scott Means

MySQL Pocket Reference By George Reese

Spam Kings We the Media Book of IRC
Spam Kings By Brian McWilliams
Read Review!

We the Media By Dan Gillmor

Book of IRC By Alex Charalabidis
Read Review!

Linux Cookbook
Linux Cookbook By Carla Schroder
Read Review!

Linux Cookbook by Carla Schroder

First off, this book focuses on RPM-based and Debian-based distributions. This doesnt, by any means, make it useless for those that don't, but some of the "recipes" are specific to either of these.

I am not even sure where to begin with my praise of this book, it's got over a dozen sticky notes marking key sections that I find useful. I guess I can start by saying that the author is deeply involved with doing system administration via the command line, which is fantastic news for me! There are plenty of decent GUI tools out there, but when x dies and you're stuck at a command line, using them isn't an option. I feel that if you don't have the knowledge to fix things yourself, at least have a book by your side that offers you some tips, and that is what this book is for. And some people just prefer doing administration via the command line all the time, myself included.

The time I most often pull out this book, however, is not when I run into a problem, but when I'm setting up a new system. I don't reinstall often, but when I do there are little things that I often forget how to do, since I do them so infrequently. Things like setting up ssh keys, setting up users and groups, setting up NTP, setting up new fstab.

I also found this book useful when I wanted a quick and clean explaination of different filesystems and more information about command line options for CD burning. Also I got some good ideas for backups and local file transfer methods from the chapter on Backup and Recover.

Best of all, this book contains a great chapter on kernels. So many books and online how-tos I've seen give you the steps of compiling a kernel, but don't explain what is going on. This always left me feeling like I had no clue what I was doing, and if there was an error I'd have no idea where I'd begin fixing it, since I didn't really know what "make mrproper," for instance, means (side note, she even quickly explains "according to Linux lore" the reasoning behind the name Mr. Proper, a delightful bit of trivia). Now that I've read this chapter on kernels I'm much more comfortable recompiling and customizing my own. She also talks about patching a kernel, which is something I had trouble with for a while, since so much documentation I found and people I asked said "just use patch" which meant nothing to me.

An excellent book for the linux user who wants to move away from the GUI and learn more about core, command-line administration. I love it.

Perl Core Language: Little Black Book by Steven Steven Holzner, Keith Weiskamp (Editor)

I've been using Perl for over 3 years now, but am always interested in Perl reference books that can make learning more easier. I wasn't sure how much I'd like this book, since most of my perl books are the standard blue O'Reilly ones, but I was plesantly surprised.

This is probably the most well laid out perl reference book I've ever used, and at just under 500 pages "Little" might be a bit inaccurate of a title (there is a bigger one Perl Black Book which, at 1296 pages, does make this book look small). This book is just packed with useful information. When I first got it I didn't have a lot of time to dive into it, so on evenings when I was feeling adventurous I'd just open to a random page and see what I could learn. It was always interesting!

The book starts out with some Perl basics, but I wouldn't recommend this to someone new to programming, it's aimed at intermediate to advanced Perl programmers. The section on Regular Expressions is excellent, I've learned so much from it. The book even touches upon Perl CGI, modules, and using Perl with XML.

Great all-around reference book, it's now sitting on the "most used" shelf next to my computer.

Programming the Perl DBI, by Alligator Descartes, Tim Bunce, Linda Mui (Editor)

I started using Perl with databases a couple years back with a small project. I was discouraged to realize that the only documentation I could find was in the perl docs themselves, which were as dry as most docs, and sometimes as hard to read as your average man page. I knew this book existed, but held off getting a copy and struggled through beginning to learn Perl DBI.

When I did aquire this book, I knew the basics. I was able to flip through the first bits of the book and was pleased with how it was laid out. It had all the wealth of information that the perl docs had, but was less confusing to me. And it was a book I could hold and scribble notes in, something I was unable to do with the perl docs (I don't have the resources to print them all out, afterall.

I would recommend that the reader has a fairly solid base in Perl before picking up this book, as they don't spend time on the Perl Basics (I suggest O'Reilly's Programming Perl and Learning Perl for this). But other than that, as far as I'm concerned it's the best Perl DBI book on the market.

The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks and Hacks, By Rachel Andrew

I've been writing websites in HTML since 1998, and using basic CSS since I discovered it's usefulness in late 1999. Until I received this book I had learned everything I knew about CSS from internet resources. As CSS grew in popularity I realized that a book that was complete and carefully laid out would be a great help to me. This book fit that need.

The first chapter answers "Why CSS?" The second reviewed the basics of CSS, which I was quite familiar with, but which would be a great help to someone who is familiar with HTML and just getting into CSS.

The rest of the book was helpful to me, as an experienced web developer. It gets into images, navigation, the proper use of tables, forms and layout using divs. When making my most recent site I had this book at my side the whole time.

Best of all, there are notes throughout the book detailing what CSS techniques work with different web browsers on different OSes (Windows, Mac and Linux), and how to get your site to work in all of them. The book even devotes an entire chapter to this.

This book also has plenty of relavent, real-world exampes that I found very helpful.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants an up to date (published in Nov/Dec of 2004) reference for CSS.

Spam Kings By Brian McWilliams

The first thing that struck me about this book is that it takes years of emails, newsgroups, and chat sessions and turns it into a story. To a long-time internet addict such as myself, seeing such a thing is rather surreal. But it's something I should get used to, as the world of the web is interacting more and more with the "real world" as this book clearly shows.

Back to the point. I had sometimes idly wondered about spammers. Who they are, how successful they could really be. This book explores that by telling the story of a few major and minor spammers, as well as the anti-spammers that work so hard to defend normal people from their aggressive advertising tactics. I'd known about MAPS, RBL, Samhaus, and Spews, but I never knew much about the specifics of how and why they were created until I read this -- this book even explores how they operate!

Best of all, this is a story about spam. All true, not dull (often dramatic!), and very informative. I suspect this is just one person's perspective of the spam world, and the people mentioned in the book are just a portion of the spammers and spam fighters working everyday (no doubt some were miffed by not being included). But the book is effective in educating people like myself in the spam underground. It also makes me more informed when I hear new news about spammers being prosecuted or new spam laws being enacted.

The only problem with this book is an unavoidable one. Because the spam wars are ongoing, the story is never over. I can see a "Spam Kings 2" being released in 5 years to catch up on what's happened. To keep folloing the spammers and spam fighters in their battles.

Book of IRC By Alex Charalabidis

I am an IRC junkie, so when I saw this book I just had to pick it up.

This book was written in 1999, and it shows. There are outdated server lists and statistics. The attacks described are mostly outdated (who "nukes" "jupes" and "floods" these days? This is only interesting from a historical perspective). The IRC clients described are now of outdated versions, and some of the now popular clients (xchat, irssi) aren't mentioned. The book claims to have a companion website with updates, which I was excited to see, but the site's domain ( seems to have expired and been snatched up by an unrelated website.

All that aside, IRC is a pretty basic protocol, and most things about it haven't changed a whole lot, so this book is quite useful. It can walk someone new to IRC through the basics, describing what everything in the IRC world is, as well as providing experts with some interesting tidbits. The whole chapters on DCC and CTCP were especially informative to me. Appendix B "Terminology" was great for providing some of the "language" one might encounter in channels with tech/irc-saavy occupants.

The book even touches upon "IRC Netiquette" when it comes to what is acceptable or not behavior-wise in IRC (I think a whole chapter should have been devoted to this, this seems to be a major stumbling block to new IRCers). The fun way in which the author presents this book makes it very amusing to read, not at all like normal techical books (this is something I enjoy about all No Starch Press books).

In summary, this is a very informative book, even for someone like me who has been using IRC for over 6 years, and now run my own server. But it needs a second edition and/or the companion website revived.

The Cathedral & the Bazaar, by Eric S. Raymond

Eric Scott Raymond is described as "An Accidental Revolutionary," as he took a leading role in analyzing and documenting the changes and growth of the Open Source (or "Free Software") movement that he, as a programmer, is part of. He's one of the "famous" people in hacker culture.

This collection of essays by ESR gives the reader a glimpse into the world of Hackers (good programmers, not to be confused with people who break into computers, those are "crackers"). He goes into how and why it works, what the pros and cons of open source vs. closed source software is, and predicts where things will go in the future.

Because this book is separated into individual essays that he has written, it's easy just to go through and read what you want. But to any person who is playing a part, or who wants to play a part in the hacker world, the whole thing is a must read. It gives you a lot to think about when it comes to the open source world, and builds up a great respect and understanding of the people pioneering it.

Hackers & Painters, By Paul Graham

I saw this book on O'Reilly's site and was quite interested, so I ordered it. The quick review? It was a very interesting read, and at least half of it is understandable to people with all varieties of computer knowledge, as Graham is very good at explaining things simply.

It's basically a collection of essays that Graham (a Lisp programmer, an artist, and one of the parners who started Viaweb, which produced a web-based online store creator which was bought by Yahoo! and to this day runs the Yahoo Store). The essays all flow very nicely with each other, so there are few parts in the book that feel random. And definately go from easy to understand to everyone, into more complex as the book goes on.

He explains a lot of typical "Hacker" (good programmers, not people who illegally break into computers!) culture, and compares it to other art forms. He starts out by explaining nerds, and why they are so unpopular in school, a fun chapter that makes me feel a bit better about being such a nerd in High School. The book goes into internet startups, programming languages, and it's only in the last three or four chapters that he gets into specifics which may lose the ordinary reader. Still, from the chapters preceding those you get a great snapshot of the Hacker world.

I was very pleased with how he used his artist background to draw historical and artistic parallels between the art world and the computer world. And these strong associations really made this book different from others that I've read hacker culture.

This book was definately worth my time.

How Linux Works, By Brian Ward

I didn't know about this book until it showed up on my doorstep courtesy of the great folks at the O'Reilly LUG program. But I was interested in it from the moment I opened the box.

It's a basic guide to general Linux. It's new, fun and the author does a nice job of covering the basics. He doesn't dwell on any one distro, but covers all sorts of commands, issues, and questions that a lot of people who are switching to linux might have. He goes over basics of Networking, Printing, and touches upon more advanced options in linux. I was especially pleased with the referencing he did, if you want to know more about a subject he recommends a book to check out! Very nice.

I sat down on a Saturday afternoon, and by Sunday night I had read my way through it. Even as an experienced Linux user I was interested and picked up a few tidbits from this book that I didn't know about. Although it's aimed at the new user, it was fun and interesting for me to read.

I'd definately recommend this book to people wanting to get into the Linux world.

IRC Hacks, By Paul Mutton

I am an IRC Junkie, so when I heard about this book being released I was pretty excited, I could always learn new things about IRC!

The book starts off with very simple basics of using IRC, including connecting to a server, registering with the servs. Then it goes into "raw" IRC, which was interesting to me because I really don't know enough about it, and it went into how to make a "basic" irc bot without an actual client, way cool!

Although I tend to use Perl for my IRC scripting, I was pleased to see that the author covered all sorts of IRC clients and scripting, including Perl, Java, TCL and C. The book is a valuble resource to IRC bot writers, as it gives you all sorts of ideas for new bots, and new features, like blogging from IRC, or making the chat client irssi talk aloud, I didn't think about these! It also introduces programs like Bitlbee (which has a special place in my heart because of the documentation I wrote for it) which allows you to use instant messangers in your IRC client.

This book is definately of most value to bot writers, but also for just about anyone interested in exploring the possiblities in the world of IRC. Another great O'Reilly Hacks book, I love this series!

Linux For Non-Geeks, by Rickford Grant

I was interested in this book because I know a lot of people who are scared of Linux, and thought a book like this would be great for them. It didn't disappoint!

But before I go any futher with this review, you have to understand that the Linux world is full of different distrubutions, window managers, applications, and other options, of which no book could completely cover. So this book chose to focus in on a small, user-friendly portion of the linux world. This is a book that leads the user through the steps of installing and using Fedora Linux (sponsored by Red Hat) and using Gnome.

To put this book through a decent review, I decided to install Fedora Core 2 on my laptop. The book comes with 2 Fedora Core 1 cds, but I wanted to be more up to date, and I wanted the kernel source (I am a geek afterall), my decision to use FC2 isntead doesn't matter much.

I was very pleased with how the author went through they basic non-technical side of linux, then every single step of the Fedora install (even dual booting with Windows!). He takes the user through the basic applications in Gnome, described several different methods of installing software. He introduces the user to the command line in a very non-scary way, and shows them that it's not as difficult as it might seem. He gets into installing fonts, burning cds, using your digital camera, image editing, listening to streaming media, printing, and all sorts of things that even impressed me about linux. The author also leads the reader through "projects" which commonly involve actually downloading a program and installing it, so the reader can get used to the process.

Looking at this from a Non-Geek standpoint, I think I'd be happy with this. The only trouble is that it's quite specific to Fedora and Gnome, but to someone who has never used a computer, or only used basic tools in Windows, I don't think this would be a problem, especially since no book could possibly cover everything, and big books scare people off.

Looking at this from a Geek standpoint, wow, Linux has come so far! I've been using Linux for a few years, each year brings new advances, I was excited when I could finally use my digital camera in Linux. A book like this puts all these great acheivements into one place, and really furthers my belief that it's ready for " J. Random End-User Aunt Tillie."

Linux Server Hacks By by Rob Flickenger

Just a couple days after I had started thumbing through this book my boyfriend picked it up and stole it for 2 weeks. The result? "This book rocks."

The book is organized into sections so that it's logical to just read it cover to cover if you felt so inclined. The hacks go from simple to more difficult, and it's certainly not just for Server adminstrators! Most of these hacks are a benefit to any Linux user. I found myself often thinking "Wow, that's so clever!" and "I should have thought of that!" while reading this book. I discovered so many new little ways around doing things, and got a fresh look at how to tackle certain problems, and actually learned quite a bit about programs I use everyday (such as ssh).

It's wonderful that such a collection has been brought together, this is now one of my favorite reference books.

Site Maintained By Elizabeth Krumbach (lyz at
Last updated January 3, 2009
Created on May 16, 2003